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Defining Leadership

What exactly makes someone a leader? 

I ask myself that question quite a bit. Maybe you do as well. 

John Maxwell has famously said, “Leadership is influence,” and he most certainly is right. 

Is there more? 

One of my favorite leaders in scripture is Nehemiah. I imagine that many of you are familiar with his story. If not, I would encourage you to stop reading this and check out the book of Nehemiah. Particularly chapters 1-6, as it relates to this article. 

Here are a few leadership lessons from the life of Nehemiah:

1.) Leaders feel what others don’t.

In the opening verses of the book of Nehemiah, we see someone who is devastated by a problem that he encounters in the world. Nehemiah receives word that the Israelites who have survived the exile and returned to their land are not doing well.

“They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.’”

– Nehemiah 1:3-4, emphasis added

When Nehemiah hears about the condition of the city, he is devastated. He immediately sits, weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays. He is so moved with compassion, so broken that it affects him physically. In fact, in Nehemiah 2:2, the king asks Nehemiah, “Why do you look so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”

This shows me that leaders feel what others don’t. Leadership that does not begin with a burden for God’s people will always miss the mark.

2.) Leaders see what others can’t.

A few days after arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah goes out, under the cover of darkness, to inspect the walls of the city. He sees for himself the destruction and the devastation. He sees the walls that have been torn and burned down. 

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.’” – Nehemiah 2:17

The walls of Jerusalem had been destroyed for 152 years at this point. How many people had walked over the same rubble? How many people witnessed the same ruins? Yet Nehemiah saw something that those who came before him did not see. Nehemiah understood it wasn’t just about the walls. The walls were certainly important. God’s people needed a place. God’s people needed protection. The walls, however, were also a physical indicator of a spiritual problem. Their lives were in spiritual ruin. There was little room for God in the heart of his people. Nehemiah saw the problem behind the problem and he saw his ability to do something about it. 

Leadership is about envisioning not what is, but what can be. 

3.) Leaders do what others won’t

Nehemiah didn’t just start laying bricks. He surveyed the land, he gathered resources, he created a plan, he recruited a team, he prepared to resist opposition, he worked tirelessly to see the vision come to fruition. He did what no one else was willing to for over 150 years.

What was the result? 

“So the wall was completed… in fifty-two days.” – Nehemiah 6:15 

Not only were they able to rebuild the walls, but they finished in only 52 days! That’s insane. I’ve never seen a construction project wrap up early. Have you? What had been torn down for generations was rebuilt in less than two months! 

It is amazing how quickly things can change when you have a burden, you get a vision, and you take initiative. That is true leadership.

What about you?

Are you a leader? 

What do you FEEL that others DON’T?

What do you SEE that others CAN’T?

What will you DO that others WON’T? 

Written by Ryan McDermott.

Ryan McDermott has been serving at Christ Fellowship since May of 2010. Originally on staff as worship leader, Ryan currently serves as the Director of Students & Young Adults. Ryan grew up in South Florida and has a specific burden to see this region radically transformed with the love and message of Jesus Christ. A graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University, with a degree in Christian Leadership, Ryan has served the local church as a full-time Youth Pastor since the age of 19. Passionate about preaching, Ryan frequently speaks at camps, retreats, schools, and other events. He has also had the opportunity to publish several articles on leadership, creativity, and innovation in Student Ministry. Ryan, his wife Christine, their son Declan, and daughter Kinley live in Wellington.

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